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One superintendent, 20 schools

We’ve been writing about the beginning of public schools in Archuleta County. The basic system until the early 1950s involved an elected county school superintendent who supervised the activities of the sometimes as many as, perhaps, 20 schools in the county.

Each of the schools was an individual school district with its own number. The large number of schools was necessary because there were no school buses. Each valley and metropolitan area had its own school district and school within walking distance for the students.

The county collected and distributed funds for each of the school districts. There used to be ledgers in the county courthouse documenting the creation and operation of each of the school districts. I hope those ledgers have not disappeared because they contained the lists of the school districts with their budgets, the names of the respective school board members, and the names of teachers at each school, and more.

There was a journal containing the activities of the school superintendents.

The first school superintendent was Fil Byrne, but Barzillai Price was also an early school superintendent. A migrant from Nebraska when he first moved to what became Archuleta County circa 1878, 1879, Barzillai homesteaded in the Chromo area. In fact, at its beginning, the Chromo Post Office was called Price. One of his accounts describes his horseback journey from Price to Pagosa Springs in order to interview teacher applicants to determine their qualifications for teaching. From Price to Pagosa Springs was a two-day journey on horseback. Since it was snowing heavily, Price spent the night at the Halfway House stage station in Halfway Canyon.

A considerable amount of Archuleta County history was contained in those old ledgers and journals. I hope when the county computerized the system several years ago, this important history source did not disappear. I had the privilege of reading most of the books in the old courthouse, if not all of them. They were more entertaining than watching TV.

What I’ve said about the old, hand-written county records is also true of the town of Pagosa Springs records.

Don’t forget the assortment of books maintained by the county and Justice of the Peace systems including arrest records, estate disbursements, etc. Of course the Justice of the Peace system ended many years ago. Nevertheless, it existed during the early days of Archuleta County and some of the records are priceless.

For instance, I discovered a record of the arrest of Juan de Dios Montoya in 1892 for the shooting of County Commissioner John Howe. The shooting took place on what is now the At Last Ranch. The incident is now remembered as the Montoya/Howe Sheepmen’s/Cattlemen’s War.